Farm Improvement Programme
Improved quality and utilisation of feed at critical key periods has the potential to dramatically:
- Increase growth rates of younger livestock
- Increase lambing and weaning percentages
- Increase wool follicle density in foetal lambs
- Improve the efficiency of livestock improvement programmes
- Reduce turn-off time for meat sheep and cattle
- Provide opportunities for on-farm diversification
The Farm Improvement Programme (FIP) scheme (previously known as the Pasture Improvement Programme) commenced in 1998/99, as a Falkland Islands Government grant for fertiliser (calcified seaweed and rock phosphate), seed, machinery use, fuel and fencing, with the aim of improving pastures on farm across the Islands.
The scheme focussed on establishing per farm:
- 50ha of highly improved pasture, producing 5-7 t DM/Ha/Annum
- 150ha of semi improved pasture producing 3.5-4.5 t DM/Ha/Annum
Crops at Blue BeachThe 10 year programme reached its halfway mark in June 2003 and spending in the first 5 years totalled £1,338,000. Out of this, a large proportion was invested into the pool machinery and fertilisers. Over half (49) of farms in the Falkland Islands worked on some form of pasture improvement during this period and a total of 1730 ha was developed to improved pasture or forage crop
Following discussions between farmers and the Department of Agriculture (DoA), the following points were noted:
- High cost pasture/legume reseed does not appear to produce a favourable economic return in a set-stocked commercial flock regime, however, high value livestock could achieve positive returns
- Highlighted the need to reduce establishment and maintenance costs and maximise productivity from reseeds and forage crops
- The key to increasing return on investment would be the need for a rigorous planning process. This would target specific livestock that will benefit highest from nutritional gain, in which the planning process would involve a high level of grazing management
- The DoA recognised that increased emphasis on all aspects of forage cropping was required
- Highlighted the need for widening of the current programme to include managed/rotational grazing techniques, based on stringent animal and plant management
- Participating farmers were keen to see the original aims adhered to. Four year plans to be established, showing how a fixed allocation per farm could be best spent to bring pasture improvement and subsequent improvement in animal production for their own individual farm
- In the 2005/2006 FIP plans, the DoA opened the programme up to include genetic funding
Crops at Race PointSince the review, a planning process was established. In subsequent years each farm plan is submitted, detailing how it intends to utilise the funding. The plans are then reviewed by members of the DoA and a decision on approval granted.
The scheme was broadened to include:
- Strategic sub-divisional fencing to facilitate rotational grazing and improved animal management
- Forage cropping as a routine component of an animal production system, targeting specific key periods where nutritional demand is higher than supply (pre-joining, winter, lactation and fattening, etc)
- Other on-farm pasture enhancing activity with clear cost benefit genetic improvement
In addition to the FIP conditions of operation (as outlined), farmers are also advised to carefully consider the FIP priorities when formulating their plans as follows:
- Improved winter nutrition of breeding ewes/cows
- Improved winter nutrition of hoggets/heifers and young steers
- Effective grazing management to improve long term pasture productivity and animal performance
- Targeted sheep and cattle genetic change to achieve defined breeding goals
It is clear that improved reproductive performance, reduced death rates, improved growth rates and liveweight combined with a slight adjustment to stock type on many farms, offers the Falkland Islands as a whole the greatest scope to improve profitability of farming. Because of this, FIP plans should focus on works that offer the prospect of gains in these critical areas.
Whilst the DoA is focussed on the above priorities, there are several potential projects that farms can pursue that do not fit directly into these 4 categories. The majority of these projects will be approved on an individual farm basis as they are often related to the categories above. These are as follows;
- Ditching is acceptable under the FIP programme, providing the farm shows evidence that they are addressing nutritional issues with their breeding and young stock. Plans are expected to outline the distance to be ditched, the associated costs and the stock type that the camp currently supports.
- The fattening of stock is eligible under the scheme providing farms can show the return on investment required. When considering approval the DoA will assess the farms current productivity levels. High quality improved pasture is often more likely to show the better return when compared to crops. Crops are often utilised as a stepping stone to assist the establishment of the pasture this will also be considered, the long term plan will be required to obtain approval in this instance. Similarly lambs will show a better return from fattening than wethers.
- With the sale of the DoA pool machinery to the agricultural community it is felt that prices for works should be left for market forces to dictate. However, it is felt that these costs will be controlled by the farm meeting a £3 return for every £1 spent. The DoA will of course monitor the situation to see if a ceiling price is required.
- A wage of £6/hour is sometimes unrealistic when utilising skilled labour in some areas of work (particularly contracting). It is felt that paying skilled labour a higher hourly rate should have the knock on effect of quicker task completion and improved quality of work assisting in achieving the return of £3 for every £1 spent. The DoA will monitor the situation to see if a ceiling price is required.
- In evaluating FIP works progress often needs to be determined through wool mid side sampling, pregnancy diagnosis, soil testing and plant nutrient analysis. These costs can potentially be reclaimed through the FIP scheme.
- Land restoration projects such as the planting of Tussac grass, fencing of areas with clay patches etc could potentially be funded under the programme.
- Rotavated tracks for easier movement or fencelines may be funded under the scheme as long as it clearly demonstrates a link the current FIP priorities.
- Costs for scanning sheep could also be reclaimed as long as the farm can demonstrate a clear productivity gain purpose for the scanning.
- To an extent grazing management is limited by water availability (particularly in the summer months). Funding is available for farms to create extra water sources or look at methods to deliver water providing they fit into a suitable grazing management plan.
- There will be no sheep ET programme run by the department in 2009/10. Funding is available for sheep and cattle AI. This must follow the guidelines (same for ram purchases) set out previously by the DoA. Any issues relating to cattle genetics should be addressed by contacting the DoA early, they will then be discussed and a subsequent decision be made.
- The purchase of imported high protein/energy supplementary feeds will also be considered for specific production feeding of young breeding stock and other situations where the return on investment meets the FIP criteria.